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Factors to Consider before making your Website by shaikhayazali

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This document contains the questions that individuals and/or companies should answer before, during and after going for a Website development initiative. This is not a technical document for developers but, for the business owners and project managers to help them identify all the important points before initiating their Website projects and to ensure they have a bright future in the vast virtual world of the internet. I recommend all the Website development related people to have this document with you to enable them to handle illiterate or non-technical clients efficiently and effectively.

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									STEP 1: Set Your Goals

1. Why do you want a web site? The first step is to identify the reasons for creating a website
and how it will fit into your overall goals. You need to identify your strengths and opportunities,
and how they tie with your plan of creating a web site. You also need to look into the threats and
weaknesses that can adversely affect your plans and derail your goals. For more on SWOT
(strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), please visit our Business Planning section

2. How does a web site fit your overall business plan? What will a website do for you and
your business? A website may be your meal ticket and the main income source; or it may be for
additional income. If you have an existing business, it can be used as a marketing tool, additional
revenue source, or a springboard of an entirely different business model. Some of the key
questions you need to ask include:

       Do you want to earn money directly from your website? Is it supposed to be profitable?
       Is your website simply for marketing purposes, with no direct revenue generation
        objectives?
       Will your website be used solely for customer and/or technical support?
       Is your website part of a multi-channel strategy (e.g. you run a brick and mortar store or a
        catalog together with a website)? Or is it a single channel strategy (e.g. you are an
        Internet pure play business)?
       Or will your website be an information source?

3. What is the size of the online market? Is your market growing? Read up about your industry
and your market. A number of websites offer informative studies about certain industries and web
audiences, and some of them are free. One such website is Pew Internet and American Life
Project which has done a number of great online demographic studies.

4. What are the goals for your website? Set some achievable metrics for your site. How much
traffic do you envision for your site in its first month? And what is your growth target every month
thereafter? How much revenue do you want to earn from the website in its first year? What
conversion rate (the number of visitors who actually buy vis-à-vis the number of visitors) can you
expect? And how much do you intend to spend to acquire your visitors?

To get some benchmark figures, check out forums catering to general webmaster issues or sites
where webmasters in your niche actually congregate (there is so much to learn from these
forums!). You can also search for previous studies done by Internet research companies (there
may be one available for your industry).
STEP 2: Develop Your Web Site Strategy

1. Who is your website target audience? Many website owners create a site without having a
clear idea of their target audience. They may think it is one group, only to find that they are
attracting a different set altogether. One thing may apply, though: even if the Internet reaches the
world, the world is not your audience, but only its specific section.

The website of a landscaping business in Phoenix, Arizona may target only Phoenix and
neighboring suburbs. An upscale website selling handcrafted objects from different countries may
target interior designers and decorators, upper income families looking for unique pieces for their
homes, and people looking for one-of-a-kind gifts. A small business information site may target
those looking to start their own small businesses or those who have already started their
businesses, but not those looking for jobs and work opportunities from their homes.

Your target audience will dictate your content, even your marketing approaches. A daycare
business in Virginia may target families and parents in Washington DC metro area looking for
daycare services for their children, but should not buy search engine keywords for “starting a
daycare business” – which is an entirely different set of customers from their target audience.

2. What typically appeals to your target audience? What are the expectations of your typical
customer from a website such as yours? Are you providing those information and features?

For example, a parent looking for a daycare service for their children on the Web will want
information on the location of the daycare, preferably a map and clear directions from major
thoroughfares. They will also want to know the rates, and whether part-time and/or full-time is
allowed. They also want a typical schedule of activities for different age groups, the ratio of adults
to children, and a host of other things.

Your website must meet at the very least the minimum expectations of your customers.

3. How are the other websites (your competition) reaching out to this target audience? The
first step is to make a list of the number of players offering the same type of information, products
or services out there. If you are planning a website design company, note that Google alone has
11 million results for this term – which implies that you will be faced with a huge number of
competitors, many of whom have been established in the field for years.

Make a list of the top websites in your field, as well as sites that are in the same league as yours
in terms of resources and traffic levels (many of the top sites are already 20-pound gorillas that
may be difficult for you to catch up). Study the different information and features on their website.
Gauge the technology used to serve the content (e.g. multimedia, flash, etc.). Understand what
makes people flock to these websites and what makes these websites successful.

4. How will you measure your performance? Right at the start – before even launching the
website – you need to define your measures of success. What will make you say that your
website is a success (or failure)?

Many web owners make the mistake of launching a site without even knowing and understanding
the tools they need to ascertain whether their efforts are a success or a bust. They start a
website, yet unsure of what to really expect.

You need to have quantifiable and qualitative measures of success to gauge the performance of
your website. These metrics will help you assess your current performance and help you assess
succeeding improvements. The various metrics will provide you with a complete picture of your
site’s performance, and can provide you with the confidence to make future decisions.

Here are some of the metrics that you need to understand:

       Traffic metrics. How many people are visiting your site? Where are they coming from?
        What sites are linking and bringing traffic to your website? What keywords do visitors use
        in the search engines to find your site? How long are they staying in your site? You need
        to start understanding the various terms to measure traffic – pageviews, unique visitors,
        and hits (considered passé and irrelevant).

       Transaction metrics. If you have an e-commerce site, you need to know how much you
        are selling, so you can compare it with your sales goals. What is your daily/weekly/sales
        volume? If your website is a means to get people to your physical store, do you know
        how many customers are actually going to your store because they chanced upon your
        website? What is your target conversion rate and return on investment (ROI)?

       Customer satisfaction. While it may be hard to quantify customer satisfaction, you need
        to have some measure to know what your customers actually feel about your website.

5. Have you developed your benchmarks? Benchmarks allow you to get an idea of how
everybody else is doing relative to your own performance. By knowing how others are doing, you
get a better sense and confidence in the metrics that you see in your own site, and you get a
clearer picture of your performance.

Benchmarking entails looking at the data and metrics of your competitors, other retailers, and
other leading sites in your industry. While you may not have the resources to research and get
the data, a simple technique will do: make a list of the top sites (based on buzz, top-of-mind
awareness, ranking in the search engines) in your category and write down what they do best;
then make a list of the sites at the bottom of the heap and see what are they doing wrong.

6. What will your website do? Given the audience you have identified for your site, the next
step is to determine what you will do for this audience. Will you give them information? Will you
offer them unique products? Will you offer them low prices? How will your site be a valuable
resource or tool for them?

7. How will your website stand above the competition? Chances are, there are already
hundreds, if not millions, of other websites offering the same information, product or services. And
chances are, they are so far ahead of your site: they dominate the search engines; they have built
on customer awareness and have developed brands. People know them!

You need to think how you will differentiate your web site from the competition. Why will users go
to your site instead of your competitors? Why will they buy from you? How can you make your
offerings more attractive to your users? To survive, you need to think of ways to set your site
apart from the rest of the competition. Your site needs to be distinct. Your users need to think that
you are unique, a cut above the rest, even irreplaceable. Below are some techniques you can use
to differentiate your website include:

       Develop a distinct look for your site
       Think of more creative advertising techniques
       Provide extraordinary service
       Offer irresistible product bundling and packaging
       Ensure a smooth delivery systems
       Institute programs that reward customer loyalty
STEP 3: Set-Up Implementation Plans

1. What name will you give to your site? The most successful websites have the most
recognizable names. They have become brands; and people remember them instantly at the top
of their heads.

The domain name of your site is critical to the success of your business: it is what users will
remember. If your domain name is more convoluted than a maze, chances are users may not
think of your site first and instead go to your competitors. The drawback, though, is that many
good domain names have already been taken, so you either need to be extra creative and think
of something unique or go for the long names.

There are two schools of thought in choosing domain names:

       Choose a unique name that is easy to remember. The name “Amazon.com” has nothing
        to do with its business -- a giant online shopping site -- but Amazon.com has managed to
        create a powerful online brand. Same with Google.com or eBay.com – businesses that
        chose catchy, distinct and easy to remember domain names for their businesses. They
        chose domain names that turned out to be good brand names as well.

       Choose a name using appropriate keywords. Keyword names such as “style.com”,
        “business.com,” “money.com” and other one-keyword names were highly sought after at
        the start of the Internet frenzy in the 1990s. The thinking then (up until now) is that users
        are most likely to remember the web site’s name if it uses the actual topical keyword. A
        person looking for information on loans might go to “loans.com” or “eloans.com.” As a
        result, demand for keyword domain name surged. Web site owners are currently faced
        with the fact that most if not all of the single word keywords have already been taken or
        sell at a very high premium.

Given the scarcity of good keyword domain names, many site owners have resorted to using
multiple-word keyword domains (e.g. keyword1keyword2), or domains that use hyphens (e.g.
keyword1-keyword2-keyword3). Aside from the “keyword equals recall” mindset, advocates of
this system think that using keywords in the domain name may positively affect their search
engines ranking (in terms of keyword density as the keywords are already found in the domain
name itself). However, there are indications that some search engines are dropping hyphenated
keywords in their databases; hence the claim regarding the search engine advantage is sketchy
at best.

2. How do you envision the design of your web site? Web site design features both form and
function. It is the visual manifestation of your web site’s objective through the combination of
content, layout, usability and navigation. Site design is extremely important: it can either help
make or break your site’s stated purposes.

       Decide on a look that matches your overall purpose. Your site design must reflect your
        overall purpose. An advertising-based website must consider ad spaces and ad formats
        that the site will sell in deciding the layout of the site. Will a half page ad be used, or a
        leaderboard, or a rectangle? How will the bottom part of the page be utilized?

On the other hand, a product-oriented site may go slow on advertising spaces and instead focus
on how the products will be presented well in the design. Do you need space for a featured
product? How about upsells and cross-sells?
       Go for a site design that is pleasing overall. The site must reflect the image of the
        business you want to project. Do you want a minimalist look characterized by clean and
        simple lines (a no-fuss approach)? Or do you want to convey a whimsical image using
        colors and bright images? Do you want to convey the appearance of a big business,
        where people looking at the site would think that a hundred employees run your site
        when in reality it is just a one-person operation?

       Think of the site layout that would effectively convey the site contents

       Make it easy for users to navigate the site

       Check for usability

3. How will you create your website? There are two approaches to creating a website: (a)
either you do it yourself; or (b) hire somebody (often a web designer) to create the site for you.

If you will create the site yourself, you need to have a working knowledge of HTML at the very
least. Some of the software you can use to create your website include Microsoft FrontPage,
Dreamweaver, Adobe GoLive, and others. If you have more advanced programming skills, you
can create a database-driven site that will run using ASP or PhP technologies.

If you have no or little skills in website creation and design, you can outsource the process. Hire a
web designer that will fit your budget and able to create the site that you envision.

4. How will you create your content? The first step is to create a content plan, which will outline
the various types of content that you will need, sources of content, frequency of updates,
person/s responsible for content as well as budget for content acquisition (if any).

       Your website’s goal will determine the nature of your content. If you intend your website
        to be an extension of your current offline business operation and not as a way to create
        new revenue streams or develop new types of business partnerships, then your content
        plan should aim to keep things simple and informative.

       Your content requirements will depend on the type and nature of your website. An e-
        commerce site will need item pictures, product description, and sales copy. On the item
        pictures, you will need to decide you will do this internally or hire an outside
        photographer; if internally, whether you have the skills, equipment and talent to take good
        quality pictures and edit them in a photo-editing software; or if outsourced, how much are
        you willing to pay the photographer and whether you will have the budget for it.

For a content site like an online publication, you will need to decide on the number of articles,
stories or news reports that you want in a day. There is also the standard content for every web
site that you also need to prepare – privacy policy, terms of use, about us pages.

        How do you intend to create your content? You can either choose to manage and create
        your content manually or automatically. There are a number of content management
        applications that you can use to make content management a breeze, particularly if you
        have hundreds or even thousands of pages. You can change the headers quickly,
        without going through each of the pages and changing the headers for each page.

       How many people will be involved in creating the content? Your content management
        system should be equipped to handle several users, particularly if the users are in
        different locations.
5. How will you maintain your website? At the onset, it is important to think about the site
creation and maintenance process. Once your website is live:

       Who will be responsible for adding content?
       How will you make corrections or changes in the content, layout or navigation? Do you
        have the skills to do it or will you rely on someone else?
       How often will you be adding content?
       How are you going to add elements to the site that you did not originally plan (e.g.
        discussion forum, shopping carts, etc.)

STEP 4: Start the Ball Rolling

1. Do you have a logo? The logo creates a feel, an image, and a brand for your site. The Web is
a visual medium, and an eye-catching logo is the first impression that you will send out to your
visitors. A well-designed logo showcases professionalism and conveys what your site is all about.

You can create your logo using the following approaches:

       Design your own logo from scratch using graphics software such as Adobe Illustrator;
       Buy a do-it-yourself software with built-in templates such as The Logo Creator; or
       Hire a graphics designer to professionally create your logo.

2. For e-retailers, do you have the critical components needed to run an e-commerce site?
To be able to sell online, accept orders, and process credit card payments, you will need a
number of elements in addition to a website:

       Merchant account. Bank authorized account that allows you to accept major credit cards,
        electronic checks, etc. You can get a merchant account from banks or merchant account
        providers such as Card Service International. Your business must qualify for merchant
        account based on the requirements set by the provider.

When applying for a merchant account, watch out for high set-up fees, hidden charges and other
unscrupulous fees. Banks often provide the best rates for merchant accounts, but getting an
account will depend on the evaluation of risk made on your business. Banks also consider
business plans and personal credit history.

       Payment Transaction Software. Software that actually processes customer order
        information, address, credit card number, etc. in real time. The data is sent to a credit
        card authorization network that verifies that the credit card is valid and verifies that the
        shipping address matches the billing address. Examples of payment gateways include
        AuthorizeNet, Verisign PayFlow, Plug N Play, among others. The common fees that you
        will pay include setup fee, monthly fee, and per transaction fees.

However, if you decide to process your orders offline or manually, you will not need payment
transaction software. Instead, you can enter the credit card information into your merchant-
account provided card terminals.

       Secure Server Connection (https://). Link to a special computer that encrypts confidential
        ordering data for customer protection. You know you are on a secure server when the
        URL in your browser says "https://". The "s" stands for "secure." If ordering information is
        not sent via a secure server it can be intercepted by computer hackers. You can get SSL
        certifications from Verisign (basic is $349/year), Thawte (starts at $149/year), GeoTrust
        (starts at $149), among others.

       Shopping cart - Software which allows you to accept product orders for multiple products
        from your website. This software automatically calculates and totals orders for your
        customers. Some setup must be done in the html code of your website, and the shopping
        cart software must be installed on the server which hosts your site or on the secure
        server which accepts sensitive ordering information. Some of the shopping cart software
        in the market today includes OSCommerce (free), ZenCart (free), ClickCartPro ($179),
        among others.

       Fraud detection systems. With any merchant account you are responsible for costly
        fraudulent activities and charge backs from your customers. If a customer complains and
        request for a chargeback, you will be charged a chargeback fee per transaction, which
        will leave a black mark on your merchant account record. Many merchant account
        providers close business accounts with higher than normal chargeback rates.

To avoid penalties associated by chargebacks, you need to implement a number of fraud
protection measures. For additional fees, your merchant account or payment gateway will provide
fraud detection systems and filters for your sales transactions (e.g. matching phone area code
with billing location, matching IP address with billing location, etc.). Some of the most important
fraud detection systems today include the Address Verification System (AVS – works for US
transactions only), Card Verification Value (the three-digit number printed in the signature space
on the back of most credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, and Discover cards and four-digit
number on the front of American Express cards), Verified by Visa® and MasterCard®
SecureCode programs.

If you are not able to get your own merchant account, you can apply to get an account at one-
stop credit card processing center such as Paypal, Clickbank, 2CheckOut and others. Note that
fees from these services are traditionally higher than merchant accounts.

3. How are you going to host your site? To publish your site on the Internet, your website
needs to be loaded to a web server. This process is called website hosting. There are two
approaches to hosting your website:

       Procure your own server. If you have the equipment, space and professional grade
        connection – and willing to pay the price – you can opt to host your website through your
        own in-house server. This is the best option if you are willing and have the technical
        capability to act as your own system administrator, have more control in the management
        of your website, or have content that are not deemed acceptable by hosting services.
        Note that this option is time consuming, expensive (a T1 line costs about $600/month not
        to mention your hardware and software) and the responsibility of ensuring that the site is
        working rests squarely on your shoulder.

       Pay a web hosting service. A Web host is in the business of providing server space, Web
        services and file maintenance for those who do not have their own Web servers. This
        arrangement allows you to concentrate on your core business and leave the problems
        associated with web servers – e.g. downtimes, security issues, etc. to the professionals.

STEP 5: Create and Launch Your Web Site

1. Have you loaded your site with your chosen web host provider? When you are ready to
publish your Website and make it live on the Internet, you can upload files from your computer to
the your web host’s server. The process of uploading files can be done in three ways (you can
also use FTP to download files from a Web site to your own computer):
       Using a third party file transfer protocol (FTP) application such as WS_FTP Pro and
        CuteFTP that you downloaded or purchased online
       Web-development application such as Microsoft FrontPage
       Through the FTP application provided by your web host accessed by logging into the
        host’s web control or administration panel.

2. Are the scripts and application you need for your website functioning well? It is
commonplace for web hosting services to provide several scripts to their clients for free from
message boards to statistical software.

However, it may be possible that your needs exceed the functionalities of the scripts and
applications offered by the web host. Hence, you either procure the license or download for free
applications that would support your needs. For third party applications, you will be responsible
for ensuring the compatibility of the application with your web host’s servers and the installation of
the software (your web host will not install it for you). If you lack the skills to install the software,
you can either pay the vendor to install the application to your server or hire another person to do
the installation.

Whether you installed shopping cart software, banner ad management software, discussion
board or refer-to-friend scripts, thoroughly test the application to make sure that it is functioning
well with no errors.

3. Have you tested your website? Once you have uploaded your files, including your home
page, you are ready to test your site in a browser. Simply type your domain name in your
browser. If your domain name transfer if not yet complete, you can view your site by typing your
temporary URL. When your site displays in the browser window, check your links to be sure that
they are all working properly. Also, be sure that your entire image files display, as they should.

Your customers will be using different computers, systems, and screen resolutions to access your
website. You need to make sure that your site presents and functions itself well across all
systems. Test your website across browsers and computer systems, making sure that it looks
good for both PC and Mac systems. Also test your website across different screen resolutions
from 800x600 pixels to 1280x1024 pixels screen resolutions.

STEP 6: Promote Your Web Site and Measure Its Results

1. Do you have a plan in place to market your website? You cannot create a website and
simply expect visitors to come: it just doesn’t happen that way. You need to develop strategies
how to lure visitors to your site, make them stay and compel them to do the actions you want from
them (e.g. purchase your products, order your services, read your content, recommend your site
to others).

Map out a plan as to how you intend to spread the word about your website, identifying strategies
to market the site online and offline.

2. Do you regularly review your traffic logs and web site performance tracker? A good
website performance tracking software will tell you how your website’s traffic is performing over
time, what are the most viewed pages, where your traffic is coming from, what keywords the
users are typing in the search engines to reach your site, how long users stay in your site, and
many more critical information. Be sure that your web-hosting package includes web site
analytics software; otherwise, scout the market for good software and install it in your site.
3. How are you going to get sites to link to you? Links are an important source of traffic for
every web site. Your site can get a share of the recommending site’s visitors if they link to you;
more so if the linking site attracts a huge traffic number (e.g. imagine how many visitors a link
from CNN.com can bring to your site). More importantly, the number and quality of sites linking to
your web site figures prominently in how search engines rank pages. The logic in its simplest
form goes like this: if more sites are linking to you – and these sites are important sites – then you
also must be important; hence your site will be rewarded with high ranking in the search engines.

But how are you going to get sites to link to you, much less the big “fishes”?

       Decide if you are going to use software to automate the link exchange process or you are
        going to do it manually. Link exchanges software can provide you with a list of
        complimentary sites, can send out request for links email automatically, even alert you
        when the link to your site is up or removed by the other site.

       If you are doing the process manually, make a list of complimentary (even competitive
        sites – if they’re willing to exchange links) web sites and evaluate whether they are likely
        to create a link to your site. Check if the site has any established procedures regarding
        link exchanges – some sites have Add URL form, while others request that all link
        requests be sent to a particular email address.

       Decide whether you want to provide reciprocal links, or you would simply ask for their
        links without necessarily creating a link back to their site (beware: many sites prefer tit-
        for-tat or a reciprocal link).

       Review link exchange emails carefully. Make sure that your email is sent to the right party
        and hence avoid being labeled as spam and deleted. Check if your email template has
        been properly filled out with no embarrassing mistakes.

       Periodically check the sites that have agreed to link to you, particularly if you have
        reciprocal links in place. Many sites promise to put up links, but remove them after a
        period of time. In the end, you may be giving them the advantage of a link without you
        getting anything in return.

4. Do you know the search engine keywords that you rank well? Do you know how you
perform in “must-be-seen” keywords for your web site? How is your site performing for the same
keywords across the various (at least the top three – Google, Yahoo, MSN) search engines? Are
you tracking the shift overtime for your keywords (e.g. you may be number one for Google today
but gone from their listings 6 months from now)?

5. If your site is not visible in the search engine results pages for its keywords, what
strategies do you intend to do? There are a number of ways to improve your search engine
ranking, among them:

       Do-it-yourself. Dedicate time and effort to studying what your web site needs to rank well.
        Then compare your site with that of your competitors’ who are doing well in the search
        engines: check their on-page optimization (titles, metatags, keyword density, depth of
        content, etc.), check their backlinks (how many and who are linking to them – can you get
        links from these websites too?), among others. Make changes and experiment with your
        website to see what tweaking produces the best results.

       Buy keywords from pay-per-click providers. If you want to be seen in your keywords but
        are not showing in the organic (non-paying) search engine results, your option is to buy
        keywords from the search engines. Google has an Adwords program where your ad will
        be shown alongside the search results pages for the keywords you’ve chosen (as
        Sponsored Links ads on the left side), or in their content network (publisher websites
        such as PowerHomeBiz.com). The price is based on your bid amount multiplied by the
        number of times your ad was clicked (e.g. you will pay $250 if you bid $0.25/click and
        your ad generated 1,000 clicks).

Yahoo offers a more complicated program: you pay for every web page (URL) that you submit for
inclusion in their search results plus (called a “review fee” of $49 per page) you also pay a per
click fee (currently $0.15/click) every time your listing generates a click. Their program
guarantees that their spider will visit your URL at a more regular basis, although Yahoo claims
that participating in their program is not a guarantee for getting top results in their search engine.
Unlike Google where paid listings are clearly marked, Yahoo mixes their unpaid organic search
results with the paid listings.

       Hire a Search Engine Optimization expert/company. If you have no time to do search
        engine optimization, there are a number of firms who are willing to do it for you -- for a
        price. They will analyze your web site, and recommend changes that you can do to
        improve your ranking. Many SEOs also offer management of keyword bidding process.

Shop carefully, though, and avoid those that promises you number one results for all your
keywords in x amount of time (after all, if one of your competitor is also a client, will they bump
your result for your competitor?). Also, steer clear of SEOs that will recommend “black hat” SEO
strategies that may boost your ranking in the short run but can get your site penalized (and that
means bye-bye) by the search engines in the long run. Never blindly trust an SEO to reconfigure
your website without understanding the short and long-term repercussions of the change.

STEP 7: Maintain Your Website and Grow Your Web Business

1. Continue to find ways to grow your web business. The Web is a goldmine of opportunities
– if you know how to look for it. The key is to explore ways to diversify revenue streams, and the
continuously changing Internet always provides new ways to earn money.

       Be open to new revenue opportunities.
       Always be on the lookout for strategic partners.

2. How do you intend to continue your education on web development? The Web as a
business medium is young and fast changing: what works today may not necessarily hold true
tomorrow. Your task is to keep updated with developments on the Internet, new applications that
can improve your website, and other opportunities that may arise.

There are many ways to gain more knowledge of the workings of the Web. Some of them include:

       Networking online or offline with like minded groups and individuals;
       Actively participating in forums/discussion boards, mailing lists and online gathering of
        other webmasters;
       Offline networking with other webmasters or industry members; and
       Reading books, magazines and other publications on the topic.

								
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